They pioneered the permissive society three centuries before the Swinging Sixties and invented capitalism, the microscope and Wi-Fi along the way. And the enlightened Dutch are still setting new ‘firsts’ with their model for a sustainable modern society in a country ranked seventh best in the world to live. Belinda Beckett discovers what it means to Go Dutch.
In the Netherlands, where you can smoke a spliff in a coffeeshop, take a prostitute to a sex drive-in or exercise your right to die with dignity and a doctor’s help, it seems almost anything goes. Call it progressive, permissive or outrageous, the Dutch word is gedogen – tolerance in law – and it’s one of the keys to their identity and success.
The country hailed as the legal capital of the world, home to five international law courts including the International Court of Justice in The Hague, doesn’t always stick to the letter of the law itself if there’s a more pragmatic option.
A haven of religious, ethnic and social tolerance since the Dutch Golden Age, this low country of dykes and windmills has condoned same-gender sex for over two centuries, sheltered refugees fleeing the Catholic Inquisitions and provided a sanctuary where controversial foreign philosophers like Descartes and Spinoza could publish and not be damned.
The Dutch have always been more interested in trade than ideology, and today 40 per cent have no religion – although they get their protestant work ethic from Calvin.
In the 17th century – their Age of Enlightenment – the Dutch Empire stretched from the Antipodes and Asia to the Pacific and the Americas and still includes the Antilles in the Caribbean. The Dutch East India Company was the world’s first multinational and the first to issue shares in stock, laying the foundations for the modern stock market.
The nation’s seminal contributions to modern society can also be seen in the arts, science, medicine, law, invention, discovery and exploration. The Dutch have given us the telescope, the world map, the artificial heart, the dialysis machine, CDs, 4x4s and orange carrots, cultivated in honour of the royal House of Orange and originally purple.
The Dutch claim their city streets are ‘all but free’ of stray dogs thanks to their new magic formula of Collect, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return (to where they were found or their rightful registered owner)…
Words Belinda Beckett